Think you have a working knowledge of your own health? Here’s a quick quiz: Do you know your blood type? When was your last tetanus shot? Do you have contact information for your doctors? Names and dosages of all your medications?
If you found it tough to come up with details while reading your morning paper, imagine how difficult it would be to provide comprehensive information during a stressful medical test or emergency situation.
Our personal health information — including physicians, emergency contacts, dates of medical procedures, chronic conditions, allergies and medications — is a vital resource for family members, doctors, nurses and the other health care professionals who provide us with treatment or care. Yet, many of us keep more detailed records on our cars.
“Most people think that their doctor maintains a comprehensive record of their health care,” says Jill Burrington-Brown, professional practice resources manager for the American Health Information Management Association. “But even healthy folks have several physicians, such as a primary care doctor, allergist, ob-gyn and so on. Each compiles a separate medical file on you, so often there is not a complete record in a single location or consistent format.”
Burrington-Brown saw the importance of a comprehensive personal health record up close when her mother, who lives half the year in Idaho and half in Arizona, developed a serious illness.
“She ended up having surgery in one place and follow-up treatment in another, not an uncommon situation with our very mobile senior population,” Burrington-Brown says. “Having all of her records in one place saved her from trying to remember all the details and from the stress of unnecessary or repeated tests.”
To help seniors, caregivers and other health care consumers develop organized and up-to-date health records, the association is launching a national consumer awareness campaign called “It’s ‘HI’ Time America.” The educational outreach includes public service announcements, an informational Web site, myPHR.com, with a guide to creating a personal health care record, how-to information on obtaining medical records, privacy rights and downloadable health record forms.
Individuals are encouraged to include other information they feel affects their health — exercise routines, dietary habits, any over-the-counter supplements and blood pressure readings or other health monitoring they do at home. Keeping such information easily accessible enables patients to play a more active role in their health care, says Lynn Kosowicz, a doctor of internal medicine at the University of Connecticut Health Center in Farmington.
“Even patients coming in for routine visits often have trouble remembering the details of past medical events, says Kosowicz. Sometimes side effects from medications, or the stress of the situation, makes it difficult for individuals to retain everything that’s happening or being discussed. We give them forms that they can fill in to help keep all their information organized.”
There are several ways to maintain your personal health care record. Several companies offer products such as portable memory devices or flash drives, computer programs, paper filing systems or online secure servers. Some are free, others must be purchased or require a subscription. The association’s Web site provides a list of vendors, the types of services they provide and the costs. Burrington-Brown suggests updating your files regularly.
“The more patients understand about the health-care system and their own condition, the better advocates they can be for themselves,” Burrington-Brown says.